Tattooing Without a License

Learn about state and local tattoo laws and possible criminal penalties for violations.

By , J.D.
Updated by Rebecca Pirius, Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated December 07, 2022

The practice of tattooing has become quite popular in recent decades. States have adopted a range of laws governing this profession because of the inherent risks to personal and public health involved, including criminal penalties.

This article will review common state and local laws regulating tattooing and the criminal penalties for violating these laws.

State and Local Laws on Tattooing

While not all states require someone giving a tattoo to have a license, most of them have training or apprenticeship requirements of some kind. Additionally, some cities or municipalities have adopted ordinances that apply to tattooing that may add requirements beyond those required by the state. In many states, it is a crime to give someone else a tattoo without having a proper state or local license, training, or supervision.

Tattooing Licensure or Registration Requirements

Many states require that individual tattoo artists be licensed, as well as tattoo business establishments. And, in some states, tattoo artists can only work out of fixed licensed locations, not pop-up shops or mobile shops.

Tattooing Apprenticeships

In states that require or allow for tattoo artist apprenticeships, the apprentice can practice only under the guidance or supervision of a properly licensed artist. For example, if you are an apprentice tattoo artist, you cannot give tattoos unless you are being supervised by a licensed tattooist.

Home Tattoos

In many states, the definition of tattooing doesn't generally require that any kind of compensation be exchanged between the person giving the tattoo and the person receiving it. This means, for example, that if a friend gives you a tattoo at home for free and isn't licensed, your friend has committed a crime even though they never asked for or received any payment from you.

Illegal Tattooing of Minors

Most states also make it a crime to give a minor (younger than 18) a tattoo. Some of these laws are blanket prohibitions against anyone giving a tattoo to a minor, while others allow for minors to get tattoos if they have the permission of a parent or guardian.

State laws can be strict in this area. Some require a parent or guardian to be present with their child, and the parent must present photo identification. If a parent isn't present, some states require a notarized written permission statement from them. Anyone who tattoos a minor in violation of these laws faces criminal penalties.

Criminal Penalties for Illegal Tattooing

Depending on your state laws or local regulations, tattooing a minor or tattooing without appropriate licensing, registration, or supervision can lead to criminal charges, on top of professional repercussions.

Most of these crimes carry misdemeanor penalties, punishable by fines and possible jail time. Fines might be in the range of a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Most state misdemeanors have a maximum penalty of up to a year in jail, although minor offenses (especially first-time offenses) would likely be eligible for sentencing alternatives that avoid jail time, such as probation or diversion.

Find a Lawyer in Your Area

While some states impose only minor penalties for someone who tattoos without a license, the penalties in other states and in some circumstances can be more severe. Not only can you face incarceration and significant fines, but if you are a professional tattoo artist or someone aspiring to be one, your ability to practice your profession can be seriously limited if not permanently derailed.

If you are facing criminal charges relating to tattooing, speak to a local criminal defense lawyer. A lawyer can help you under the criminal legal system, as well as possible professional repercussions for having a criminal record.

Talk to a Defense attorney
We've helped 95 clients find attorneys today.
There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
Full Name is required
Email is required
Please enter a valid Email
Phone Number is required
Please enter a valid Phone Number
Zip Code is required
Please add a valid Zip Code
Please enter a valid Case Description
Description is required

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you